As Ed said to me via email: He’s grabbed everything else, he might as well try to grab the brass ring.
And so, at long last, we come to the fateful question in this year’s Democratic primary. Who will Uncle Joe endorse once he flames out of the race?
The primary, Biden believes, will be easier than some might think: He sees a clear path down the middle of the party, especially with Bernie Sanders occupying a solid 20 percent of the progressive base, and most of the other candidates fighting for the rest. And the announcement comes at a moment when many in the party have become anxious about Sanders’s strength, with some beginning to wonder whether Biden might be the only sure counterweight to stop him from getting the nomination…
[T]he campaign is still making key decisions on what will happen next, including whether to go cute for a launch event by doing it on the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, famous for the training montage from Rocky, or go for a powerful challenge directed right at Trump by heading to Charlottesville, Virginia, where the president infamously blamed “both sides” of a neo-Nazi march in August 2017.
Charlottesville was the event that first led Biden to speak out forcefully against Trump, and by going there, he could use the event as a rallying point for “the battle for the soul of this nation” that he’s been talking about since Trump refused to condemn the white supremacists that weekend. (Biden’s team has also looked at locations back home in Delaware.)
How ambivalent was Biden about this? The Atlantic claims that he still hadn’t made up his mind about whether to run when Lucy Flores first accused him of hair-sniffing just a few weeks ago. Fox’s sources from inside Bidenworld are already warning that launch day could slip from Wednesday to Thursday, almost a last-second tribute to how hard it’s been for Biden to make any farking decision already about his candidacy.
The long delay may have helped him in an important way, though. Granted, dawdling while other contenders jumped in gave them a head start in hiring talented managers and raising money, but it also forced establishment Dems worried about Bernie Sanders’s viability to stew in their anxiety for a few months. With each new poll that comes down the pike showing Bernie in second place — or even first — the neoliberal fear that democratic socialism really might coopt the party grows. Two months ago centrist voters were prepared to sit back and see if Beto O’Rourke or Kamala Harris might surge in early polling against Sanders, with Biden’s candidacy still a question mark. Two months later O’Rourke and Harris are still single-digit propositions. The candidate with the most momentum besides Bernie is Pete Buttgieg, who’s still years away from turning 40, has no statewide or federal experience, and ain’t all that much of a centrist apart from his religious faith. Some anti-Sanders voters are doubtless starting to wonder if Biden’s the only thing standing between them and full Berniefication.
Which means Biden’s theory of the primary isn’t all that crazy. Some of the oppo being dribbled out against him will no doubt do damage over time, but the more he can make the race into a referendum on holding back the socialist tide, the more centrists may consolidate behind him as their best hope. Biden would *love* to turn this race into a “Biden or Bernie” choice, shoving talented newcomers like Buttigieg offstage and trusting that in a gut-check binary vote there are still many more traditional Democratic voters in the party than there are hardcore progressives. (Which is certainly true.) The wrinkle in that theory, as Ross Douthat noted a few weeks ago, is that alienating progressives would deprive Biden of a key part of the Democratic base against Trump in the general election. Some would suck it up and turn out anyway because, at the end of the day, Orange Man Bad is all that matters, but not all would. Winning a “Biden or Bernie” death match might be a pyrrhic victory — but it also might be Biden’s only shot at the nomination. Which makes me wonder if his “battle for the soul of America” theme won’t just be aimed at Trump. “We’re being asked to choose between vicious nationalism and infeasible socialism,” he could say. “That’s not who we are.” He might try to burn down the left and then hope he can convince them to show up next fall.
Meanwhile, I find both of his choices for his launch event kind of odd. Philly makes some sense given Pennsylvania’s importance on Election Day and its proximity to Biden’s home state of Delaware, but his whole brand politically is that he can connect with Rust Belt voters as well as, or better than, Trump can. Why not do it in western Pennsylvania? Or in Wisconsin, to show the midwest symbolically that he won’t neglect them the way Hillary did? (The DNC chose Milwaukee as its convention site next year for just that reason.) Charlottesville makes some sense too not only as a rebuke to Trump but because Biden is looking to be top choice for black voters by dint of his Obama pedigree. Going to the site of an infamous white-nationalist rally and vowing to take back America is one way to do that. I’ve always suspected, though, that Charlottesville occupies more space in the minds of the chattering class than it does in those of average Americans. If Biden wanted to woo black voters, I would think launching in South Carolina would make more sense. Or even Chicago, to present himself as O’s rightful political heir.